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Latest developments in Arab world’s unrest


MANILA » The Philippines has rejected an appeal from Saudi Arabia to cut the minimum wage for Filipino maids in half and will not be sending new domestic helpers until the dispute is solved, the labor chief said Friday.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the Saudi government wants the minimum monthly salary for Filipino maids lowered from $400 to $200.

Saudi officials have complained that the Philippine government has imposed other strict measures on Saudi employers, including giving out their personal data and information on their income. In March, the Saudi Foreign Ministry announced it was suspending processing of new contracts.

About 1.2 million Filipinos work in the kingdom, including skilled laborers, nurses and maids. They are part of about 9 million Filipinos, or 10 percent of the population, who work in 190 countries to escape poverty and unemployment at home.

Workers abroad send back remittances amounting to 10 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product, fueling domestic consumption and keeping the local economy afloat.

Baldoz said the Philippine government’s requirements are mandated by law, including the minimum wage, as part of measures to protect the welfare of overseas workers particularly in Arab countries, where abuse is rampant.

The Philippines has barred deployment of workers to some Middle East countries, including Lebanon and Syria.

Baldoz said that oil-rich Gulf countries were pressuring the Philippines to relax the rules for overseas workers, citing the mediation efforts some of the Arab governments have undertaken in the southern Philippines, where Muslim rebels are fighting for self-rule in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

"These countries continue to pressure us not to impose the ban, citing their political role in the peace negotiations in the southern Philippines and threats to cut oil supplies," she said. "There is really a wide political repercussion regarding the hiring of household service workers."

She said about 13,000 maids head to Saudi Arabia every year, of which 9,000 are newly hired and the rest are returning workers who have their contracts renewed.

Baldoz said she planned to discuss the wage dispute with her Saudi counterparts at an International Labor Organization conference in Geneva next month.

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